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Jewish World Review April 5, 2000 / 29 Adar II, 5760

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Confessions of a soccer mom -- I'M A SOCCER MOM. The real thing. I live in the suburbs and drive my kids to practice in a minivan. But that's not all I have in common with the millions of other American soccer moms.

We also share the attentions of presidential candidates George Bush and Al Gore, who desperately want our votes. They think our support is up for grabs by either party and that we're so important that we may prove decisive in the race.

But apparently there is a little something that makes their prey a wily one. Forget the "gender gap" -- there's a "knowledge gap" between the sexes, according to a study just released by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year their researchers asked 9,000 men and women basic factual questions about presidential contenders Al Gore, George Bush, Bill Bradley and John McCain. Questions like which candidates advocated universal health care and nuclear test ban treaties, and who was a former senator, who was a governor, who had been a basketball player and who a Vietnam POW. And in most of the questions women's knowledge lagged by statistically significant margins behind the men, even when controlling for education, socioeconomic status, and interest levels.

This held true even for issues that women are supposed to care most about, like where the Democrats stand on abortion. In fact, out of 25 such questions, men outperformed women on 15 and women outperformed men on only one -- a question about campaign finance reform.

This is unlikely just a fluke, as other studies consistently show similar results. In their 1996 book "What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matters," political scientists Michael Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter looked at decades of data and found that while Americans in general are not rocket scientists when it comes to their knowledge of national issues, typically three-quarters of women score well below the male average on tests of national political knowledge even when controlling for a host of variables.

So, for instance, while polls show women might care more about the poor and national education policy than men, and while they even vote at higher rates, women are far less likely than men to know the approximate size of the federal budget, the amount Washington spends on education or the unemployment rate.

Perhaps this has something to do with a fact reported by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago: While only 38 percent of American college-educated men age 25-40 read a newspaper everyday, that's still 36 percent more than their female counterparts.

These aren't exactly politically correct findings. So what's going on?

Well, I think I have a pretty good idea. Look, I cried when Ronald Reagan lost the Republican nomination for president -- in 1976 when I was 13. I get four newspapers a day. You get the picture. I'm immersed in politics and I love it. But still, when I see my similarly situated women friends of any or all political stripes what do we talk about? Yes, there's the political news. But more than anything else we talk about our family news. The kids. Their schools. Our homes. And things like the new bike path and whether it's far enough away from that busy street.

At the same time I just cannot conceive of breaking in on the conversation of a group of accomplished men and finding they'd talked for an hour about the proposed changes to the community recreation center or which local libraries have the best morning children's programs.

Maybe that's why the "knowledge gap" disappears or even favors women when it comes to such community issues as who is on the local school board.

So perhaps there's a lesson in all this, first for the presidential candidates. That is -- gasp -- that no matter what the intelligence, accomplishments or status of soccer moms, we tend to be more home- and community-oriented than men. And to win our votes, the candidates will have to make a convincing case to us that their stand on national issues will literally affect the day-to-day life of us and our families.

At the same time there may be a lesson for us soccer moms too -- that we should not just sit back and be wooed. If we want to be taken seriously concerning national politics -- and not just be the blind recipients of pandering -- we'd better start encouraging more of our sisters to do their homework.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


03/30/00: Getting an education about schools
03/22/00: If you're a parent, act like one!
03/14/00: Not child advocates, but self-advocates
03/06/00: McCain not what he seemed at first
02/29/00: An effective answer to social problems
02/22/00: The feminists' newest target: Toys
02/06/00: Harassing the harassers
01/31/00: It doesn't take a village to raise a child --- it takes a scheduler
01/25/00: Psuedo science and global warming
01/18/00: Socially responsible nonsense
01/10/00: Monica may be onto something
12/27/99: Sometimes it matters quite a lot what government thinks
12/17/99: Teens have no inherent 'right to privacy'
12/10/99: Buying a minivan and tossing the SUV
12/03/99: On the mommy track
11/05/99:The waste of recycling
11/01/99: Welcome to Harvard pre-school
10/22/99: No disaster for women that Dole is out
10/19/99: 'Humanitarian' hypocrites
10/15/99: On a first-name basis with a three-year-old

© 2000, Scripps Howard News Service